Answer: No. Not all religions worship the same deity.
A 2007–08 Pew Research Center survey indicates that “most Americans agree with the statement that many religions—not just their own—can lead to eternal life. Among those who are affiliated with a religious tradition, seven-in-ten say many religions can lead to eternal life. This view is shared by a majority of adherents in nearly all religious traditions, including more than half of members of evangelical Protestant churches (57%).” A 2011 Barna survey indicated prevalent belief in universalism and pluralism.
Here is what Barna found:
Broadly defined, universalism is the belief that all human beings will be saved after death. On balance, Americans leaned toward exclusive rather than inclusive views. For example, 43% agreed and 54% disagreed with the statement, “It doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons.”
Similar splits in public opinion emerged for the statement, “All people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their religious beliefs” (40% agreed, 55% disagreed) and the sentiment, “All people are eventually saved or accepted by God, no matter what they do, because he loves all people he has created” (40% versus 50%).
59% of adults believe that “Christians and Muslims worship the same God even though they have different names and beliefs regarding God.”
Nevertheless, despite their own personal faith convictions, many born again Christians embrace certain aspects of universalist thought. One-quarter of born again Christians said that all people are eventually saved or accepted by God (25%) and that it doesn’t matter what religious faith you follow because they all teach the same lessons (26%). An even larger percentage of born again Christians (40%) indicated that they believe Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Perhaps you belong to that segment, and if so I invite you to compare Christ with other religious options. And if you already are a Christian, I want to sound a wakeup call, an opportunity to join a growing number of believers who have chosen to sink their roots deeper, to understand their faith better, and to turn their beliefs into convictions.
We should be glad for the opportunity to represent Christ in our pluralistic age. This is not a time to hide the light in our hearts but to let it shine in the hazy dusk of religious pluralism. Never before has it been so important to have Christ in our heads and not just in our hearts!
“The religions of the world have a rich diversity that should be prized. But do they all lead to the same God?”
Yes, of course we believe that eventually “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11), but we must rekindle our passion for Him to be honored in our day among our neighbors and friends. Our love for Him can be measured by our concern about His reputation among the people of the world.
Now if Christ is indeed only one among many, if He is but one of the gods, then it is time for all the religions of the world to unite. Let all religious leaders stand on equal ground; let them pool their insights so that they can fight our battles with a unified army. Enough of division! Enough of fruitless arguments! Enough of bigotry!
Which forces the question: Does Christ belong on the same shelf with Buddha, Krishna, Bahá ú lláh, and Zoroaster? Like Christ, such leaders (and others) have taught some rather lofty ethical ideas. Even if we say He stands taller than the rest, have we given Him His due? Or is He to be placed on an entirely different shelf altogether?
The religions of the world have a rich diversity that should be prized. But do they all lead to the same God? As Christians, we believe they do not.
Standing in the way of some peoples’ ideal of religious unity is the person of Christ. Historically, Christianity has held Him to be unique, the only special Son of God, the Lord, Savior. But many Christians—or at least many of those who use the label—are beginning to think that we can no longer maintain exclusivity in the midst of the growing awareness of other faiths. And the push to unity is too powerful, too inviting to resist for them.
Here are three possible ways to relate Christ to the challenges of other religions.
First, there is pluralism—the direct assertion that we must accept all religions as equals. Christ is only a man, a prophet, one of a variety of options, and not necessarily a better option at that. Pluralism insists that even the word tolerance smacks of bigotry, the insinuation that we have to “tolerate” those who are different from us. We should not simply tolerate different religions; we should grant them the same respect we give our own. In this scenario Christ is variously interpreted, but always He is stripped of His deity (unless His assertions are interpreted to mean that all of us are divine).
“Standing in the way of some peoples’ ideal of religious unity is the person of Christ.”
This pluralism (or universalism) affirms without qualification that no religion has the right to sit in judgment upon another. Without mutual respect, uncritical tolerance, and an unqualified acceptance of the rich heritage of others, there are no grounds for unity. Superiority leads to the prejudice that must be exposed, despised, and eventually plucked up by the roots.
A second more common stance is inclusivism—an openness to other religions that began with the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Christ, in this view, may still be unique, but He does not have sole possession of the truth. Other religions are also an expression of the divine, though their form may be less clear than that given to us in the New Testament.
Liberals have always sought to demonstrate the spiritual value of other religions. The World Council of Churches stresses that only through religious dialogue amid the diversity of the world’s religions is it possible to see the totality of God’s revelation. Only ignorance and narrow-mindedness would limit God’s revelation to Christianity, the dominant religion of the West.
Third, there is exclusivism which maintains that God has revealed Himself only in Christ; all other religions are therefore incomplete, misleading, and false. Elijah, the mighty prophet of the Old Testament, one might call an exclusivist. When he had a contest with the prophets of Baal and they were proven to be false, he took 400 of them and had them put to death at the river Kishon.
The New Testament continues with this tradition of exclusivity, except that followers of other religions are no longer subject to civil penalties. (Although intermittently throughout the history of the church heretics were burned at the stake, this was based on a confusion between the Old Testament age and the New Testament command to render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.)
Exclusivism, I might add, does not conflict with freedom of religion. Freedom to adopt whatever religion one wishes (or none at all) should be a right in all countries, especially those that have been influenced by the Christian faith. A proper definition of exclusivism means that, whereas we recognize and respect freedom of religion, we do not compromise our beliefs. We also do not combine them with other religions or philosophies. If there is one true God, our options are limited.
These three possibilities spawn other variations. For example, there is selectivism, which says that we must not follow any one religion but compile our own personal list of cherished beliefs. A smorgasbord has the advantage of having many nourishing items, and we get to choose whatever suits our fancy. This is more democratic, more in keeping with the radical individualism that is so highly prized in America. In such a context, Christ can play any role you want Him to.
Christ must always stand alone; all attempts to unite Him with the religions of the world are doomed to fail. Once we clarify His credentials and the gospel He brought us, we will realize that the Christian faith is exclusive and must logically be so. Amid charges of bigotry, our task is to be lovingly exclusive. If there is any good news in this world, the followers of Christ will have to proclaim it.
The Bible draws a definitive line through the peoples of the world, but it is not a line between races, nations, or even cultures, as such. This line separates Christ and His followers from all other religious choices. I’m committed to helping us identify that line, show where it should be drawn, and give reasons that we have no right to move it.
by Erwin Lutzer
You’ve heard it said, “All religions are equal.” But do you know how to respond? Tolerance sees all religions as spokes of...
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